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Handel – Giulio Cesare

Freiburg Baroque Orchestra / René Jacobs - conductor

Giulio Cesare – Marijana Mijanovic
Curio – Klemens Sander
Cornelia – Kristina Hammarstrom
Sesto – Malena Ernman
Achilla – Nicolas Rivenq
Cleopatri – Veronica Cangemi
Nireno – David Hansen
Tolomeo – Christophe Dumaux 

The Barbican Hall, London – 19 April 2007 

The Barbican continues to pack in audiences for their monthly fillip of Handel and on this occasion, despite the usual show of trendy evening wear, the velvet gloves were decidedly off. Stamping, spitting, people being hurled to the ground – all these was incorporated into the performance of an exceptional cast of acting singers - a forceful reminder that this is one of only two operas where Handel portrayed an assassination on stage.  

As with the recent Ariodante this Giulio Cesare had transferred from a staged performance (in this case at the Theater an der Wien) and the cast were fully enmeshed in their characters and the drama.  Very good use was made of the platform space, and giving singers the freedom to move around certainly seems to relax and free their voices for Handel’s testing score  

In the title role, Marijana Mijanovic made a somewhat angular figure in a long gold jacket, with a convincingly masculine gait.  She adopted a rather severe tone, with very strong low notes and minimal histrionics, coupled with a highly expressive face. She mirrored every shift in emotion as the drama unfolded.      

Her Cleopatra, Veronica Cangemi has a very clear voice, effortless in its upper register and coloratura, with fine Italianate gloss.  She has a considerable stage presence, moves very naturally - and worked her audience. 

Christophe Dumaux (Tolomeo) has voice of unusual timbre; there is nothing plaintive about it and he is fiercely accurate in the the coloratura passages. This is a singer who understands aggression, who was not afraid to sing a big number on his knees.  He put together a totally convincing portrayal of a thoroughly unpleasant and probably mentally unstable individual. 

The two Swedish singers in the cast were particularly impressive.  Kristina Hammerstrom sang the role of Cornelia with dignity and restraint, very positive in her recitatives.  Malena Ernman (Sesto) was appropriately vicious and vengeful, her confident voice sparkling as it soared.   Together they blended beautifully, making their duet, Son nata a lagrimar, one of the high points of the evening. The soloists constituted a convincing ensemble as the chorus (with no scores in evidence). 

The whole enterprise was united under the wisdom of Rene Jacobs (illustrated). His 1990s recording has long been admired, but he surpassed it tonight, with the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra in tremendous form.  The four horn players deserve special mention, and a pair of violinists circling the stage were most effective as the delightful birds in Cleopatra’s garden.   

Serena Fenwick